The Impact of Climate Change on Pakistan’s Food Security

The probability that human activities and industrial advancements have caused the warming of the planet is more than 95%. Pakistan contributes only 1% to the total global greenhouse emissions but has been unsuccessful in controlling its emissions. The rapid increase in climate change can devastate the already malnourished populations in the world. The rise in temperature negatively affects the grain production of agrarian regions, giving rise to dilemmas like food insecurity. Almost 37% of Pakistan’s population lacks food security, despite being self-sufficient in major staples’ production. The main problem lies in the access and affordability of food. In addition, the challenges posed by climate change, hinder food production and accessibility.

Various factors, such as agronomic, institutional, and political instability have, without a doubt, led to the growing issue of food insecurity and hunger in the country. On top of the structural issues, the looming problem of climate change out-marks every other hindrance in the provision of food security to the masses. Climate change is considered the most pivotal cause of food insecurity. The change in temperature, rainfall, water availability, and population size has a greater impact on food production. In recent years, heavy rainfalls in the harvesting season have greatly reduced wheat production. On the other hand, climate change has huge effects on Pakistan, ranging from unpredictability and scarcity of monsoon rainfalls to the impending melting of the Himalayan Glaciers in the Indus River System and high probability of natural disasters such as floods and droughts. Such drastic changes in temperature and low precipitation increase hindrances in the agriculture produce and intensify food insecurity. Unfortunately, “Pakistan has faced about 150 weather-related incidents as a direct result of climate change”. Moreover, approximately “30 glaciers are also at risk of bursting, which may lead to ice avalanches and floods and will directly affect the Indus River System”.

The rise in temperature negatively affects the grain production of agrarian regions, giving rise to dilemmas like food insecurity. Almost 37% of Pakistan’s population lacks food security, despite being self-sufficient in major staples’ production.

The threat of growing locust spread and reproduction could be classified as a result of changing climatic conditions. If the right temperature and breading conditions are present, the locust reproduction can increase to 20-fold every three months. A report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) earlier this year, warned the South Asian countries of locust infestation. It mentioned that due to the wet winter in Pakistan, “38% of the area (60% in Balochistan, 25% in Sindh and 15% in Punjab) could serve as breeding grounds for the desert locusts”. The report “predicted, severe damage in areas where major rabi (winter-sown) crops like wheat, chickpea, and oilseeds grow”, which if not contained will badly impact the livelihoods, food security and nutrition of the most vulnerable communities in Pakistan.

Therefore attaining the goal of food security becomes rather difficult for the poor segments of the society. Since the 2013 drought, water crisis and drought has become a usual occurrence in the provinces of Pakistan. Approximately 87% of households in drought-affected districts in Sindh own livestock but a decreased fodder production, and scarce water availability, lead to livestock diseases, deaths, and limited sales of animals. “In Sindh, the 2018 monsoon season rainfalls were almost 70% below average”. Whereas, “in Balochistan, they were 45% below average, resulting in acute shortages of water, food, and fodder”.

The heavy rains of 2019 resulted in severe flash floods in districts of Balochistan. Meanwhile, monsoon rains flooded several districts of Sindh resulting in 1.4 million children aged 6 – 9 months to suffer from acute malnutrition in the drought-affected districts in 2019. The UN Food and Security Cluster estimated the drought to have affected approximately 5 million people in 26 districts of Balochistan and Sindh provinces. By July 2019, approximately 1.3 million people were experiencing a food crisis in seven drought-affected districts in Sindh.
About 23% of people in these provinces of Pakistan are termed as “stressed” according to the World Food Programme report; “Global Report on Food Crises 2020”. Thereby stating that the locals of these provinces although are consuming minimally adequate food, but are unable to afford some essential non-food expenditures without engaging in stress-coping strategies.

Although Pakistan produces more cereal crops, wheat and rice than the national requirement, but due to lack of policy implementation, the food insecurity is rising. Unfortunately, the country’s food policy has not recognised food as an entitlement for its citizens as of now. In 2018, the country’s first food security policy was unveiled, aiming to alleviate poverty, eradicate hunger, and promote sustainable food production. The goal was the implementation of new food safety measures and the launch of a “zero hunger” program. Despite the publication of the first-ever policy report, progress on the key policy goals seems non-existent. The Prime Minister declared a national emergency in the wake of the locust infestation in February.
Due to a lack of coordination and consensus between the centre and the provinces, the on-ground food security situation worsened. A visible gap between the policies and their implementation is hampering the state’s efforts in mitigating the food security crisis. The government’s focus on traditional security threats has increased so immensely that it has rather neglected the biological threats from the rapidly changing climate. Moreover, due to higher food prices since 2018, the buying power and affordability of food for the poor is affected badly.

Amidst a global pandemic, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has brought about 25 water schemes in Pakistan. These schemes, constructed in 25 villages of Tharparker district, serve the purpose of small water storage tanks. In order to support small farm holders in the aftermath of a global pandemic, water troughs and small drip irrigations systems were also established in those villages. They serve as small water storage tanks with inbuilt solar submersible water pumps, constructed in 25 villages of Tharparkar district. Water troughs for livestock and small drip irrigation systems for kitchen gardens were also established in these villages to support the small-holder farmers and reduce the impact that COVID-19 restrictions pose to their livelihoods. “The construction work was completed under a cash-for-work programme, providing temporary employment to the most vulnerable and affected population in the district.”
On the other hand, every year a lot of food crops and products are wasted due to natural disasters, pest attacks, and mismanagement. A proper policy should be formulated to safeguard households from the negative effects of natural calamities. “The notion of crop insurance should be introduced”.

Economists have advised that there is a dire need for introducing support prices for all crops and providing agricultural insurance to support the farmers. Furthermore, the hoarding and smuggling of resources are the issues that create food shortage in Pakistan. Therefore, the implementation of the National Food Security Policy announced in 2018 is needed. Until the government is not able to focus on the poor and initiate more programmes that will cater to the rapidly spreading food insecurity, with the on-going economic pressures and the fight against the global pandemic, the food insecurity will continue to multiply which will inevitably put pressure on the most vulnerable segments.

Rida Anwar

Rida Anwar is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She has studied International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad.

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